Last month we “sprung forward” with Daylight Savings, which means that we lost an hour of our day. Of course the hour isn’t actually lost, but as we change our clocks an hour ahead we certainly feel that way. Just changing that single hour can throw off our schedules, but it is our internal schedule that is the most affected. We struggle to get to sleep earlier than our bodies are used to, and then awaken the next morning feeling exhausted. For some people this adjustment period can last weeks! This seems like the perfect time to discuss sleep patterns, since this time of year already brings about these readjustments.
People often treat sleep as something that can be avoided, and this is particularly true in our part of the world. We feel as though those hours could be used for more useful activities, and we fight the instinct to sleep as much as we can. It starts when we’re young; children kick and scream when nap-time comes around each day. We feel like those few hours of sleep will cause us to miss out on something important! As we get a little older, we feel pride when we tell our friends how late we stayed up on a school night. We’re exhausted as we make it through our school day, regretting how little sleep we got, but then we repeat it the next night. Then we enter college, where the ever popular “all-nighters” are a common occurrence. People frequently party all night, putting off important tasks until the last minute. They are then forced to stay up all night to complete their assignments, or risk failing their classes. Some students simply have a larger work load, or even a part/full time job, and find themselves studying through the night regularly. Relying on stimulants like coffee and energy drinks becomes normal, while a full night of sleep becomes the obscure. We start bragging about our 8 hours of sleep the way we used to brag about staying up late, and all of our friends are either envious or act as though we’re weak for “staying in”.
Eventually we’re out of school, and completely immersed in the working world. Some professions allow for a traditional “40 hour work week”, which can still be stressful and tiring, while some individuals find themselves working nearly double that. Some have families, are attending school at night, have a second job, or fill their time with hobbies and sports. And what is the one activity that can always be sacrificed to make time for everything else? Sleep. It isn’t an appointment that we have to get to by a certain time, and nobody is going to be angry at us if we put it off (except perhaps ourselves). We’re the only ones in control of when we go to bed, which sometimes feels like it may not be a good thing! Now we can see why our parents were so adamant about us going to sleep when we were young, and we often look at children fighting their designated nap and bed times with something akin to jealousy. “They don’t know how lucky they are”, we think. It isn’t always as obvious in adults, as we don’t generally display the “fussiness” that children do when they are tired, but it absolutely affects our mood and how we interact with others.
People in other cultures may look at our busy lives in amazement and wonder, not grasping how or why we do it. Many of us do it out of necessity, while some do it by choice. It isn’t that we’re wrong for doing so, we do what we must and it is by pushing ourselves that we go farther. At what point should we really step back and examine what we’re doing to our bodies though? As we get older, obviously so do our bodies. And when we’re consistently running them down, and never allowing the time to regenerate, how long is it going to take for this to catch up with us? Sometimes we see immediate effects, when we get sick after even a few days without proper rest. Now imagine this on a larger scale, doing this to our bodies for years rather than days. Perhaps we should reexamine how we’re prioritizing our own well-being, and consider making some changes to our relationship with sleep.
For some it isn’t even a lack of trying that causes them to lose sleep, they go to bed at a reasonable time but find that they have trouble falling or staying asleep. The stress of their day to day life is too stimulating; they toss and turn thinking about that next work meeting, paying for their child’s college in 18 years, and any number of other concerns! The lack of sleep in turn intensifies our stress, as our tired minds have trouble keeping up and are more easily overwhelmed. A properly rested mind and body is less likely to become as agitated so easily. There are some things that we can do that will help to calm ourselves before bed, to make it easier to fall asleep. A cup of herbal tea or a hot bath are the go to methods for relaxing , and turning off all electronics at least an hour before bed will work wonders. Rather than getting your adrenaline pumping with an intense television show right before bed, use that time to read, stretch, meditate, or take the aforementioned hot bath. Stretching before bed is a great way to help your achy muscles relax after a long day, and you’ll generally find it much easier to get comfortable and drift off to sleep.
It isn’t always just a racing mind and busy life that are to blame either, there are many issues that can contribute to trouble sleeping, or can keep you from obtaining enough rest even when you do sleep. So how do we know when there is a deeper issue at play, and it isn’t just outside factors? Sometimes it is more obvious, but occasionally there is more going on within our bodies that we may not be aware of.
Some of the most common issues that people experience at night are:
- Night sweats
- Waking to urinate
- Overall restlessness or thrashing
- Waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling back asleep
- Inability to get comfortable enough to sleep, and/or waking up in pain
There are a number of mental, physical, and emotional issues that can display these symptoms, and sometimes people aren’t aware that they are connected. If you’re experiencing issues like these, or anything similar, it is a good idea to examine what else might be going on with your body. Be aware throughout the day of any other symptoms, even if you don’t think they are related to your sleeping habits. This should then be discussed with your healthcare professional, and will help to determine the root of the problem.
What are just some of the common causes for issues like those mentioned above?
- Thyroid imbalance
- Sleep apnea
- Menstrual issues
- Physical pain anywhere in the body
- Restless Leg Syndrome (which itself is usually a symptom of other conditions)
- Jet lag
So where does acupuncture come in?
Acupuncture can often be used to address and treat the root cause, which in turn helps to ease the additional symptoms that stem from it. It has been successfully used to treat issues like those mentioned above, from balancing the hormones/thyroid, to offering relief from aches and pains. On top of that, acupuncture is simply a wonderful way to relax your body and allow it to rest and regenerate. When you’re experiencing trouble easing your racing thoughts and falling asleep, a treatment can help to balance your energy and calm the body and mind. People often use acupuncture as a means of maintenance as well, rather than only seeking treatment when something is awry. It is wonderful preventative measure, to help keep the body in tip top shape! And remember, maintaining healthy diet and exercise routines for your individual needs can also work wonders. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, not getting enough rest, or simply feel that you need help relaxing, you may find that acupuncture can help get you back on track by not only addressing these issues, but the underlying conditions that may be causing them. Once you have obtained a healthy relationship with sleep, you’ll find an increase in energy, mental clarity, and sometimes even an alleviation of additional symptoms.